Why I Don’t Believe in New Year’s Resolutions

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New Year's Resolutions

Almost anyone who’s reached the stage of adulthood has set some variation of New Year’s Resolutions at one time or another.

Setting New Year’s Resolutions spans across cultures, countries and religions.

It’s kitschy, in a way; we turn the page to start the New Year on the calendar and we feel like there’s many possibilities to be had. You look back at what you accomplished the previous year and see things you might want to change or experiences you wanted to have but for one reason or another did not partake in.

I look back at 2012 and it was a year of major change in the Frugal Rules home. Most importantly, we welcomed another child into our family. We also decided to take the plunge and started a new business. Hearing this you might think that I am like anyone else and religiously set New Year’s Resolutions, however this couldn’t be farther from the truth. Before you write me off, hear me out as I explain my reasoning and how I enjoy setting goals.

What Are Popular New Year’s Resolutions?


One only has to do a quick Google search to find some of the more popular New Year’s Resolutions. The most common ones I found were the following:

  • Be more fit and exercise more
  • Get out of debt
  • Learn something new
  • Get organized
  • Quit Smoking
  • Get more enjoyment out of life

There’s nothing at all wrong with any of these resolutions; God knows I need to do a few of them myself. The problem with all of them though is that they’re too nebulous, there’s not an ounce of specificity to them. Being a personal finance blogger I, of course, espouse getting out of debt. But, how are you going to do that without a recognizable plan to actually succeed with the resolution?

Are New Year’s Resolutions Really Effective?


I know that Wikipedia is not to be considered a bastion of scientific research, but I did find a striking number when looking for the effectiveness of New Year’s Resolutions. According to Wikipedia there was a study done in 2007 that showed that 88% of people who set New Year’s Resolutions fail.

I know that the findings might not be the most scientific, but the fact remains that more often than not New Year’s Resolutions fail. I think that most of us start with good or even honorable intentions, but the reason why so many of our resolutions don’t pan out is that we don’t set quantifiable goals. Now, for some, that might be ok but I know that personally if I am going to be effective at reaching my goals then I have to have a specific number to shoot for.

How Can I Be Effective With Setting Goals


Before you label me Debbie Downer, please know that I am all for setting goals. Without setting goals you can easily fall into aimlessness. The method that I prefer to use in my goal setting is the SMART goal system. For those of you who haven’t heard of the SMART goal system, here it goes:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Attainable
  • Realistic
  • Timely

Take getting out of debt as an example. Just having that as a resolution is going to be difficult to reach without something guiding it. Let’s put this desire through the SMART goal method. We’ll use the example of having $3,000 in credit card debt and you have the desire to pay it off in under a year. Say you look at your budget and see that you’re able to easily throw $500 per month at the debt. So, we can make a SMART goal of throwing $500 per month at your debt for six months. It’s really as simple as that. Think of it as using SMART goals to put meat to the bones of your New Year’s Resolutions. Ultimately, whether or not you do this as a resolution at the beginning of the year, or as a part of an ongoing process like myself is of no relevance. The point is that when you are setting goals make them quantifiable and make them something you can reach without breaking your back.

What’s your take on New Year’s Resolutions? Do you have any New Year’s Resolutions for 2013, or do you use the SMART goal format?


Photo courtesy of: Chris Rawlings

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John is the founder of Frugal Rules, a dad, husband and veteran of the financial services industry whose writing has been featured in Forbes, CNBC, Yahoo Finance and more.

Passionate about helping people learn from his mistakes, John shares financial tools and tips to help you enjoy the freedom that comes from living frugally. One of his favorite tools is Personal Capital , which he used to plan for retirement and keep track of his finances in less than 15 minutes each month.

Another one of John's passions is helping people save $80 per month by axing their expensive cable subscriptions and replacing them with more affordable ones, like Hulu with Live TV.


  • Michelle says:

    I definitely agree with you. I’m all about goals that are realistic! 🙂

  • Pauline says:

    I make a plan for the year and cut it into monthly goals. No resolutions, it sounds to me like a punishment of some kind, or a thing over which you have no control.

    • John says:

      That’s a great way to look at it Pauline. That would make it much more surmountable and less than like punishment. 🙂

  • Lance @ Money Life and More says:

    I am not a huge fan of them either because you should constantly be trying to improve yourself, not just once a year!

    • John says:

      I could not agree more Lance! If you need to lose weight, pay off debt, etc you need to start now and not wait around for a New Year.

  • Holly@ClubThrifty says:

    Our resolutions are just to keep moving forward with all of the goals that we have! I don’t really believe in waiting for the new year to arrive to implement a positive change. Why wait?

    • John says:

      Exactly Holly, those are totally my thoughts. If I need to get something accomplished then there is no time like the present.

  • Jamie Dickinson says:

    I feel making resolutions is more about your attitude prior to Christmas. I’ve had a number of goals/this I want to achieve in mind for a while now, however the manic nature of Christmas has held that off until 2013. Firstly, there’s and the cost, the sense of over indulgence (guilt!) and lastly (for us) the mammoth amount of travelling and family seeing. You feel so out of routine that when it’s all over its then that you genuinely feel you have time and money to dedicate to your goals.

  • DC @ Young Adult Money says:

    I personally think that the New Year is a symbolic good time to reflect on where you are at and where you want to be. Life is so busy that it pretty much takes a symbolic time to really sit down and make goals/resolutions whatever you want to call them. I actually do put resolutions and goals in a similar bucket, though I also make realistic goals/resolutions so maybe that’s the difference between a resolution that gets kept and one that fails within a week or two of the new year.

    • John says:

      I think that’s exactly why they fail so often DC. People either are looking solely at the symbolism or not making them quantifiable on any level. I like to try to look at goals regularly throughout the year and have them be measurable so I can know where I stand.

  • Mrs. Pop @ Planting Our Pennies says:

    We’re more of a goal than resolution kind of house – and the new year is not usually when we make them. Vacations are when we get time to reflect and brainstorm goals with one another.

  • Grayson @ Debt Roundup says:

    I go with goals, not resolutions. Some of my goals this year are broad, but I know that they probably aren’t attainable. I do have some more specific ones that I know I can hit. Being specific is the key to succeeding with your goals or resolutions.

    • John says:

      I could not agree more Grayson. Having that specificity is vital. Even if it’s a major stretch goal you can see where you measure up at the end of the term.

  • femmefrugality says:

    I’m not really into the whole New Years Resolutions thing, either. I prefer to set my goals and begin working on them as soon as I’m inspired. I like to make them measurable, and starting on them right away helps me make sure my motivation doesn’t fade.

    • John says:

      We’re much the same way. Once we identify something we want to change to shoot for we go from there and set a measurable goal. Having that quantifiable goal to reach for does help keep you motivated.

  • Edward Antrobus says:

    I like the phrase: don’t make goals, make plans. Online I’ve talked about my reslutions and they would seem kind of nebulous, but I’m just using short-hand for what my real plans are. For instance, my goal of paying off my credit card by the end of the year is really:
    Make the required payment every month
    Not miss any plasma donations this year and apply the $55/week from that towards extra payments
    Earn an excess of $3000 online though advertising, freelancing, and ebook sales and apply that income towards extra payments.

    • John says:

      That’s a great point Edward and one that I did not include in my post. My thoughts really are not to just make some pie in the sky goal/resolution, but determine what your goal is and make plans to achieve it. Without those plans your left with a destination without no real way of getting there. Sure you could still have success but not as likely.

  • Marie at FamilyMoneyValues says:

    Really, you need both. As DC said, the turning of the year is a great time to set aside and reflect on your life, your job, your family – whatever it is for you. Goals are great and absolutely necessary, but without the end in mind – the vision, the resolution, your goals could lead you all over the place and not get you where you need or want to be.

    • John says:

      I would have to disagree to a certain extent Marie. My point is not to wait around til the end of the year, but to be regularly reflecting on where you want to be. Sure, it’s symbolic to do it at the beginning of the year, but in the long run will get you no where if you’re not specific and do not have a plan to act. I think it really comes down to being disciplined and having a clear focus on where you want to be on a regular basis.

  • John says:

    Thank you Michael! That’s exactly what I am talking about. You need to be reflecting throughout the year to see where you can improve and take those small steps that will build into something good. Having some nebulous goal might sound high & lofty, but the likelihood of seeing success is much less lower.

  • Midlife Finance says:

    I set some goals this year. I used to not do it, but now I set goals and found that I do pretty well. What really helps is keep track of the progress on my blog. If I set goals throughout the year, I would forget about them in a couple of months.

    • John says:

      That can be a great way to keep yourself accountable to your goals. You have to go with what works for you. I like to do them throughout the year in order to stay sharp and make sure I am accomplishing what I intended to.

  • Mackenzie says:

    I set goals for the year and they are things I would like to accomplish over 12 months. They aren’t “resolutions” per se, because I don’t believe those are specific enough. But I totally understand why one would not want to make changes simply because the calendar says January 1.

    • John says:

      I would agree Mackenzie that resolutions generally are not specific enough. My whole thing is being mindful of it regularly as opposed to just doing it because of the date on the calendar.

  • Danielle says:

    Hah, I just posted a blog about my 2013 goals and made sure to make them SMART (except maybe the last one)!

  • The Happy Homeowner says:

    Definitely a fan of the SMART goals–this was the highlight of my resolutions post from last year! All of my goals come complete with detailed timelines to help me stay on track and all are based in the reality of my current situation. Staying detailed and realistic are great ways to keep the momentum throughout the entire year!

    • John says:

      I could not agree more. Having that quantifiable framework provides a great way to make sure you stay on path and actually accomplishing what you want.

  • Alex says:

    I’m not so much about resolutions, but for the first year in a long time I started with a plan. The fact that the plan commences on January 1st is as much convenience as anything else! *grin*

    SMART goals are very important. For too many people, resolutions are just vapor and reams.

    • John says:

      Like I said in a previous comment, it really does come down to setting that plan. Otherwise, you won’t get anywhere and not accomplish your goals. That’s a great way to look at resolutions…unfortunately it rings true for too many people.

  • Ornella @ Moneylicious says:

    I wrote a similar post recently. I find people have the same resolutions year after year, sometimes it’s about solving a problem to stay committed.

  • Canadian Budget Binder says:

    I don’t think we set anything in stone for 2013 for goals or resolutions besides sticking to the budget and investing more money bla bla. With any goal or resolution you have to have a plan. At work we set goals and objectives but there has to be a plan and follow through for them to be potentially realized. Last January I set a resolution to quit smoking. I didn’t just say I would I did something about it. I planned the quit, went to support group meetings and talked on the phone to a smokers helpline. It was all about planing and executing the quit and it worked. I’m coming up for one year smoke free and that’s after over 15 years of almost one pack a day. Anyone can do it but if there is no plan there is no goal IMO> Mr.CBB

    • John says:

      I could not agree more Mr. CBB! You can call it whatever you want, but if you don’t have a plan then you’re going to get no where. Having a plan really puts meat on the bones of the goals. Congrats on being smoke free for nearly a year! My Mom and Stepdad stopped a few years back but only because they were forced to and not because of choice.

  • Justin@TheFrugalPath says:

    A goal without a timeline is a fantasy. If you can’t measure your success then chances are you’re not going to achieve what you want. I did set a New Year’s resolution. However, there is a timeline and milestones that I intend on achieving. I suppose it could have been started at any time, but New Years was good because it allowed me to more easily measure the progress.

    • John says:

      “A goal without a timeline is a fantasy”…I love it Justin! I could not agree more. In order for it to be effective it needs to have some sort of meat on the bones so you can measure yourself and your progress.

  • Jordann says:

    I’m a HUGE fan of SMART goals. I set five for myself this year, which I blogged about this week. I think they’re about 100x better than resolutions, and that much more achievable as well. Great post!

  • eemusings says:

    At least within the blogging community, I think the resolution mindset is well and truly gone. We all know the importance of SMART goals and setting targets for achievement.

    Among my offline friends, however, it’s a different story…

    • John says:

      I think you’re right, for the most part, in regards to the blogging community. I bring up SMART goals elsewhere and I get blank stares half the time.

  • Glen @ Monster Piggy Bank says:

    I love using the SMART method for setting goals. It’s pretty much the only reason I ever get anything done.
    I actually wrote a gigantic post on SMART goals back in September last year –

  • The College Investor says:

    Huge fan of SMART goals, followed up with accountability. You will fail at everything without those two things!

    • John says:

      I could not agree more. That accountability really is vital. It’s needed in order to make sure you’re doing what you said you would while also encouraging you to stay on the path you wanted to.

  • JP @ 20's Finances says:

    I think the concept of SMART goals is good. Although, I’ve read numerous articles that say that psychologically they often lead to disappointment and disillusionment with the goal, if the goal is unaccomplished.

    I think the key is making small changes in course. Every year I try to improve my behaviors in eating and working out in small easily achievable ways. It’s been working for me for years.

    • John says:

      I would tend to agree JP, especially if the goals are really not reachable or you don’t make plans to actually try and accomplish said goal. I think making small changes is vital, especially if they’re culminating towards a broader goal. I think it makes it easier and the momentum can help carry you through.

  • Daisy @ Money Smart Guides says:

    Resolutions are broken so quickly when most people make them. Making small, short term goals instead of goals that you may take a full year to accomplish is a lot more effective. That’s where the “T” part of the SMART goal model comes in. While some might argue that a year long goal is not un-timely, I definitely think it can be for certain goals.

    • John says:

      Great points Daisy! I think smaller goals definitely can make achieving what you want more within your grasp. Reaching those smaller goals can help build very helpful momentum over time.

  • KK @ Student Debt Survivor says:

    I very much agree. Why should I only pick one time of year to make goals? I made yearly goals and think I’ll do a monthly check-in to keep myself accountable.

    • John says:

      That’s my exact point KK…I could not agree more. Sure, it’s a good symbolic time to set them but it’s a problem when it’s only done at the beginning of the year.

  • John says:

    Great points! I could not agree more. I think the planning and implementation stage is one that many miss when they set resolutions. Sure, if I say that I resolve to do “X” but nothing beyond that it’s absolutely meaningless and will get you no where. Thanks for stopping by!

  • Laurie says:

    Great post, John! I did the same for years: making 5 or 6 unspecific goals that covered the areas in my life that I wasn’t happy with. Now I’ve learned my lesson: For 2013, I have one goal (reduce our family’s debtload) with a specific, detailed action plan.

    I think that if you do decide to make a New Year’s resolution, you’ll have a much bigger chance at success if you pick one area that’s really important to you, make a plan, and commit to staying the course.

    • John says:

      Hi Laurie! You bring up a great point about setting that plan. Having a goal or resolution will get you no where if you have no framework or plan in place to reach that goal. Great point about finding something that’s important to you. That’ll make it more tangible and can push you to strive for it more. Thanks for stopping by!

  • Elizabeth @ Broke Professionals says:

    I’m also not big on new year’s resolutions. I like having goals – both big and small – but labeling them as “resolutions” often sets you up to fail. I believe that every “resolution” has to start with a lifestyle change, plus it has to be something you’re passionate about. If you’re not motivated, not even the best plan will get you to your goal.

    • John says:

      We tend to be the same way Elizabeth in having small and big goals…and having plans to go along with them each. You bring up a great point about a resolution needing to start with a lifestyle change. Many times we overlook that or just don’t want to deal with it. I could not agree more with the motivation aspect. It’s vital and without it you’re only going to get so far.

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